Mystical Relations: A Study of Feminine Relationships with Christ in the High Middle Ages and Beyond
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From a modern perspective, the notion of Christ as a feminized figure appears to stand contrary to long accepted Christian beliefs. However, Christ has been feminized in literature for centuries by women and men, nuns and monks, abbesses and abbots. This is not to say that Christ was not physically and anatomically male, rather that his nature and flesh are associated with femininity. The concept of Christ as a female figure is especially prevalent in the late Middle Ages, notably in the writings of figures such as St. Ambrose, Bernard of Clairvaux, Hildegard of Bingen, Hadewijch of Brabant, Julian of Norwich, and Catherine of Siena. Not only do these writers draw a picture of a feminized Christ, they often draw a motherly Christ.
The following pages explore the place of femininity in the Christianity of the High Middle Ages: how feminine relationships and allegories have encouraged greater understanding of Christ and influenced the ideas associated with Christ today— the feminine attributes of Christ’s flesh and his nature and the feminine allegories people of both genders have used to heighten spiritual understanding. Also explored are the women who sought greater understanding of him and his humanity through unusual and, often, controversial relationships and methods. This paper will strive to highlight the vital role femininity plays in Christianity in regards to understanding Christ.